All it took was President Donald Trump catching COVID-19 for Facebook, Twitter and TikTok to enforce policies that thousands of other users had been denied the security of. Although many social media sites have “abusive behaviour” policies that work against users wishing harm on others in their platforms, these kinds of policies are not really enforced to the point that they actually become effective. But, just hours after President Trump announced that he and others of his staff had tested positive for the virus, a series of comments and posts went out wishing for his death to which social media sites responded with awareness. Their immediate actions give light to the double standards in the media.
Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley, a group commonly referred to as “The Squad,” are just a few to name who have been receiving death threats and similar posts for over a long time in their respective careers. Social media platforms such as Twitter did nothing for them, it did not even try to remind users of their policies like it did for the president. It also seems that female politicians face online abuse more than their male counterparts, additionally when they are ethnic or racial minorities.
In 2019, Democratic representative Ilhan Omar took to Twitter to post an anonymous death threat that she had received, including the countless others that she, to this day, still gets online. Twitter did not condemn this behavior and instead allowed for the abusive language of their community to remain on their platform. In the case of President Trump, who has also been a victim of similar online bullying in recent years, social media took it more seriously. How Twitter handled the situation could also be due to the fact that President Trump is a highly controversial figure in modern politics, not to mention that he is the president of the United States. But, despite this, the lives of the men and women of Congress should not be worth less than the president’s because of the different positions they hold. Although it is evident that many of these figures are not as individually known to the majority of the American public as the president, it was Twitter’s enforcement of certain policies that showed how the rights of certain public figures are valued more than others.
With the popularity of social media today, cyberbullying has seen a rise. Spreading fake or misinformation has become easier, allowing people to be more easily influenced by the things they see online. Another problem with social media’s current double standards is the lack of taking down such defamatory posts. There is a lack of commitment to dealing with these issues that furthers the double standards we see present in social media policies.
Social media platforms have also lacked the ability to address the online harassment of those less known. A 2018 survey conducted by Women Who Tech, Rad Campaign and Lincoln Park Strategies revealed that 28% of Americans have faced some form of online harassment, with minorities being “often harassed online the most.” What someone could have been dealing with for years was handled by Twitter for Trump in just a matter of days. This symbolizes an unfairness and imbalance in the way that the media treats the very people that it is meant for. It discredits the experiences of people with less power and promotes awareness for those that have the ability to be recognized as victims.
Nobody deserves to be harassed online, not even President Trump, but Twitter’s response to the situation, despite being appropriate, was hypocritical. It made clear to the people that use the company’s platform who its policies really protect.